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OMBN fiber optic network now in works in Washington County

January 12, 2013|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com

The One Maryland Broadband Network (OMBN), a planned 1,294-mile high-speed fiber optic network that will link more than 1,000 government facilities and community “anchor institutions” across the state, is now in the works in Washington County.

“It’s unlimited speed, basically,” said Scott Nicewarner, director of Information Technology and Support Services for the City of Hagerstown.

A total of 18.5 miles of fiber optic cable will be laid in the county by November 2013, Nicewarner said.

“On fiber optics, you’re not constrained to the amount of data that can go over it,” he said. “Once you lay fiber optic cable, you can increase the amount of data going across it exponentially ... as opposed to copper, which is like telephone wire that has a limitation.”

Nicewarner discussed the project and its progress to date with the Hagerstown City Council on Jan. 8.

Work has begun along Robinwood Drive east of Hagerstown, where trenches have been dug for the fiber optic cables that will end up at Hagerstown Community College, one of the state’s chosen anchor institutions, he said.

Cables in the city will run from the West End to the Professional Arts Building on Public Square and then north on North Potomac Street to the Department of Social Services,, according to a memo to the five-member council.

Other anchors outside the city include the state prison complex south of Hagerstown just off Sharpsburg Pike, the county’s backup 911 center and several outlying public schools, Nicewarner said.

“In addition to being able to connect some of these public institutions, there’s also going to be some strands of the fiber that are going to be available for economic development,” he said, noting that the speed and cost-effectiveness of fiber optics could be a great way to attract high-tech companies to the area.

With the state’s public anchors already selected and primary cables plotted, Nicewarner said Design Nine, a networking firm based in Blacksburg, Va., has been commissioned by Washington County to conduct an “impact study” to provide market analysis of the area and best practices for using the remaining fiber optics most efficiently in conjunction with existing assets of the county and city as well as those of the county Board of Education and county Free Library.

“The county received a matching grant from the Appalachian Regional Council that is paying for an impact study to be done, to basically do a market analysis and provide best practices ... as far as rolling this fiber out and the best way to do it,” he said.

Nicewarner said the study, which will get started later this month, will help identify unserved or underserved areas of the county and to increase broadband network access to residents and businesses overall.

Results are expected to be released by early spring, he said.

“Once it comes back, then we’ll have a much better handle on how we move forward,” Nicewarner said. “... Potentially, if the market is there for it, it could allow fiber to be taken directly to a house.”

The study also will research and develop financing and sustainable business plan models that encourage entrepreneurship and identify possible public-private partners to assist in completing and constructing the network, he said.

Not only will these fiber optic networks be much faster, but Nicewarner said they will be a lot cheaper, too.

A state-of-the-art fiber optic network will “significantly decrease” costs compared to the common T1 or T3 networks found in many public institutions, he said.

 “If (the prisons have) been doing all that through T1 and T3 lines, they’re going to get much faster and much, much cheaper,” he said.

The OMBN is being built with $115.2 million in grant funding through the federal Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), according to the state’s Department of Information Technology website.

The award, received in September 2010, will be matched with about $43 million in contributions from the state and participating jurisdictions, and was the third-largest BTOP grant nationwide.

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